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Showing posts from July, 2020

Review: Louder Than Words

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Louder Than Words by Kathy Kacer
Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt

Every morning in this difficult time, I wake up and count my so numerous blessings. How my troubles pale when compared to the lives of Eldina Sternik and her family, as told by Kathy Kacer. With only the vocabulary available to her as the author of a book designed for Middle Schoolers, she has retold the remarkable story of how the three Sternik children were saved by Nina Pukas. It is set in Proskurov, a small town in the Ukraine, beginning in 1941. A world comes to life for us. As the terror mounts, public places are closed to Jews, jobs lost, and the Sterik’s house is burned down, either by Nazi’s or hoodlums inspired by Nazis. Finally, Mrs. Sternik is arrested by the Nazis. Through it all, at great danger to herself, Nina protects the children as her own as she guides them through the rest of the war. As twelve year old Dina tells us the story, we feel the increased tension and terror, as well …

Review: Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom

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Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom by Sarah Aroeste, illustrated by Ayesha L. Rubio Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Bridget Hodder

BUEN SHABAT, SHABBAT SHALOM is a board book. The text comprises one playful, free-rhyming couplet for each double page, setting the calm and happy scene of a loving Sephardic family celebrating Shabbat. But...how important can a board book be?

Quite important, as it turns out.

Since the authentic Jewish culture and Ladino language of the Sephardim are in danger of disappearing from the world, and are particularly invisible in the United States, it's important to raise awareness. It's also important to start educating our children about Sephardic culture very early. In literary terms, you can't get an earlier start than within the chunky cardboard pages of a board book.

The Sephardic author, Sarah Aroeste, is also a singer-songwriter, making her a wonderful voice to "chant" the simple, sacred pleasures of her culture's Shabbat (&…

Review: They Went Left

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They Went Left by Monica Hesse
Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Meira Drazin

Eighteen years old in 1945 when the Gross-Rosen concentration camp is liberated, Zofia Lederman’s body and mind are left shattered. But she cannot forget or give up on her promise to find her little brother Abek—the only one from her family beside her not to be sent to the left when they arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau three years before—no matter what. So begins Monica Hesse’s THEY WENT LEFT, with Zofia first setting off for her former home in Sosnowiec, Poland and then across Poland and Germany to a displaced persons camp, where everyone is trying to piece together a future from a broken past.

Although I personally write contemporary Jewish literature for children, I am very thankful that Holocaust literature is still being written by authors, bought by publishers, and read by new generations of young people. And I welcome in particular books such as THEY WENT LEFT that seek to shine a light on aspects of w…

Review: Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz?

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Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Kyle Reed
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer:  Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

Reminiscent of the style of a Dr. Seuss story, Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? is about the ziz, a mythological big bird that is referred to in ancient Jewish writings.

Alongside Reed’s whimsical and colorful artwork that gives the book a fantasy world feel, the reader learns how a ziz looks and behaves, during the day and at night. Written in rhyming verse, the vocabulary is both simple (hat / cat / bat) and more advanced (prehistoric / absurd / creation / lofty). There are also several Seussian words in the book; in this story, where what would be the real word, is replaced by a made-up rhyming word that begins with the letter ‘z’ (zis instead of this, zat instead of that, zings instead of sings, zee instead of see). This use of the ‘z’ sound will appeal to younger children, especially when the book is read aloud. Additionally, some of the w…

Review: The Boy Who Thought Outside The Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer

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The Boy Who Thought Outside The Box: The story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer by Marcie Wessels , illustrated by Beatriz Castro Categoary: Picture Books
Reviewer: Meg Wiviott

A picture book biography that traces the life of Ralph Baer from his childhood in Cologne, Germany to his adult life in New York where he becomes the “Father of Video Games.” But such a journey is never easy. Once he is forbidden from attending school because he is Jewish, Ralph is determined to learn English, which helps his family escape Nazi Germany in 1938. His childhood fascination with gears and construction, and the emergence of radio and television sets him on a path towards electrotonic engineering. Long before anyone thinks of using a television for playing a game, Ralph and a team of engineers build the first TV game system. Unfortunately, no company wants to support it. Ralph never gives up. Magnavox’s Odyssey is the first game system sold in 1972, “forever chang[ing] the way we play.”

The Boy Wh…

Review: Havdalah is Coming!

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Havdalah Is Coming by Tracy Newman, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli
Category: Picture Books (Board Book)
Reviewer: Mirele Kessous

Tracy Newman has a formula for her board books, and it works. Following on the success of Shabbat is Coming! she now has Havdalah is Coming!.

Simple 2-line rhymes grace each page and conclude with the phrase “Havdalah is coming.” This is nothing exceptionally creative, but it works for little kids, who will memorize it quickly enough. The language is appropriate for the baby through age 4 audience. The illustrations by Viviana Garofoli are bright and engaging. She does include one token person of color in the end—kudos. If you want to play it safe, pick this up for your little tyke. It won’t rock the boat.

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Reviewer Mirele says: I am a certified librarian with a specialty in children's and young adult library services. This is my 7th year working at The Charles E. Smith …

Review: Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home

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Shalmon Bayit: A Peaceful Home by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Ag Jatkowska Category: Picture Books (Board Book)
Reviewer: Mirele Kessous

This board book introduces the term "shalom bayit" by comparing the different places in which animals make their homes. It's a charming approach to teaching the concept and sure to appeal to toddlers and early preschoolers. With short and simple rhymes and age-appropriate language, this board book makes for a solid read-aloud. For some reason, a couple of the rhymes fall flat (i.e."leaves/ease") which is a tad awkward if you are trying to use the book to teach children how to rhyme. The adorable illustrations have just the right amount of detail for young eyes to want to take a closer look. The father and son depicted are not wearing kippot, and mom is wearing jeans, so the book may not appeal to Orthodox readers. For everyone else, though, it’s a worthwhile purchase.

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Review: Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin

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Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin, The Story of Young Itzhak Perlman by Tracy Newman, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

Itzhak Perlman is considered by many to be the greatest violinist in the world today. Itzhak: a Boy Who Loved the Violin, is the story of how he grew up, starting with his birth in Tel Aviv, Israel and moving through his life until his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show at the age of thirteen.

The details of his life are well laid out. He was surrounded by music – classical, cantorial, klezmer filled his home from an early age. He is synesthetic, meaning he sees music as a rainbow of colors. By the time he was three years old, he knew he wanted to play the violin. Unfortunately, his parents could not afford that, and the toy one they were able to provide did not appease Itzhak’s desire. Even more unfortunately, at the age of four, Itzhak contracted a life-threatening case of polio. He survived and worked hard to reco…

Review: Worse and Worse on Noah's Ark

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Worse and Worse on Noah's Ark by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Vivian Mineker Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

There is no more perfect Biblical story for these times than that of Noah’s Ark. Leslie Kimmelman’s take on it, Worse and Worse on Noah’s Ark, is perfect for sharing with stir-crazy kids who won’t stop arguing and kvetching, just like the creatures (human and otherwise) aboard the ark. Its message is not subtle - working together and taking care of each other can improve even the worst situation - but Kimmelman delivers it with charm.

Kimmelman also sneaks another lesson about Jewish values into Worse and Worse. When the colorful scarlet macaws and peacocks make fun of the merely dichromatic penguins and zebras, Noah gently points out that, “We’re all God’s creatures… we’re all equally beautiful in God’s eyes.” Kimmelman also brings out the aspect of predators and prey being stuck together on board the ark, something I, at least, had never though…